14 Ways 3D Printing Has Changed The Art World

14 Ways 3D Printing Has Changed The Art World

A 3D-printed portrait of President Obama dominated a few headlines last week, as the Smithsonian Institution welcomed the three-dimensional sculpture like no other into its presidential collection. The boom in additive art has been building for several years, capped off now by a major art museum's acceptance of the art-meets-science medium. In fact, it seems no corner of the art world remains untouched by 3D printing's growing influence, from architecture to dance to painting to music.

"[3D printing] is so disruptive," Developing Dreams' Kati Byrne stated in a video for the "Break the Mould" 3D printing art project. "It has the potential to change the way we create." With that in mind, here are 14 ways the technologies of 3D printing have already twisted and transformed the ways artists make.

1. 3D-Printed Masterpieces: Rob and Nick Carter's Replica of Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers.


Vincent van Gogh is well known for his sunflowers, as well as his uncanny ability to capture their glowing color and beautiful decay. That must have been what artists Rob and Nick Carter were thinking when they opted to 3D print the post-Impressionist hero's flora. And they're not the only ones with a desire to reproduce the imagery of classic figures. Dutch researcher and art enthusiast Tim Zaman developed a 3D photographic scanning system to do just that.

2. 3D-Printed Instruments: Joseph Malloch and Ian Hattwick's Wearable Instruments

McGill University researchers Joseph Malloch and Ian Hattwick created a series of 3D-printed, wearable instruments that employ advanced sensing technologies to transform movement, orientation and touch into music. We can only hope this is what some of the symphonies of the future will look like.

3. Sculptures Of All Sizes: Ioan Florea's 1971 Ford Torino

ioan florea

Ioan Florea, a Romanian-born artist, uses 3D-printed plastic molds to shape liquid nano-metals into massive sculptures, everything from a car to a covered wagon. He's inspired by economist Jeremy Rifkin, who foretold the current age of mass customization.

4. 3D-Printed Public Art: Ji Lee's "Mysterabbit"


Designer Ji Lee began "Mysterabbit" in 2013, a street art project involving 10,000 tiny bunny statues hidden in random spots across the world. From South Korea to Iceland to the United States, the small sculptures appear to be meditating and are meant to serve as miniature public artworks for passersby everywhere. Oh, and they're 3D-printed. As we previously reported, you can download a blueprint for the tiny bunnies and create Mysterabbits of your own (with access to a 3D printer, of course).

5. 3D-Printing Sound: Gilles Azzaro's Sculpture of Obama's State of the Union Address

French digital artist Gilles Azzaro turned soundwave into sculpture when he 3D printed a sprawling visualization of Barack Obama's State of the Union address. The piece is aesthetically intimidating -- it looks like a contained mountain chain of dark masses -- as well as sonically intriguing. Admirers of the sculpture can actually listen to the 39-second sound bite and watch as a laser follows the peaks and valleys of the complex work. (Not into the State of the Union? Try this Joy Division-inspired 3D sculpture.)

6. 3D-Printed Interior Design: Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger's "Digital Grotesque"

Architects Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger 3D printed an entire room, creating a 16-square-meter cube covered in unbelievable ornamentation ripped straight from the interiors of an alien house of worship. Titled "Digital Grotesque," the style of architecture is meant to defy "classification and reductionism," turning algorithms into tangible design.

7. 3D-Printed Stop-Motion Animation: "Bears on Stairs"

Yup, 3D printing has penetrated the world of stop-motion animation. "Bears on Stairs," from the London-based studio DBLG, involved 50 small, 3D-printed sculptures photographed over a period of four weeks to produce a beautifully simple two seconds worth of moving beauty.

8. 3D-Printed Garments: Xuedi Chen and Pedro Oliveira's "x.pose"

Xuedi Chen and Pedro Oliveira created "x.pose," a "personalized wearable data-driven sculpture" that links to a wearer's smartphone to determine how much metadata is being collected at any given point. The 3D-printed dress then adjusts to that data, exposing skin as you expose yourself online.

9. 3D-Printed Artifacts: Adam Lowe's Replica of King Tut's Tomb

king tut tomb

British artist Adam Lowe spent five years making a perfect replica of the tomb of King Tut. And guess how he did that? Three-dimensional printing. “Every bit of micro bacteria is in its place, every crack, every flake of paint. It’s effectively like a portrait, or a performance, of the tomb from when we recorded it in 2009," he explained to National Geographic. (You can see an actual image of the 3D-printing feat here.)

10. 3D-Printing Food Art: A Sugar Sculpture And A Saltygloo.


Artists employing the wonder of 3D printing do not have to confine themselves to plastic and metal media. Sugar Lab has printed sculptures made entirely of sugar, while design studio Emerging Objects created an igloo crafted from salt panels.

11. Handheld 3D-Printers: LIX 3D Printing Pen

This captivating pen allows you to doodle in three dimensions, crafting "sketches" of sculptures that can serve as the blueprints for larger projects. Or, the minimalist 3D drawings can amount to finished products in their own right. The best part? This tool fits in your pocket. Imagine what Alexander Calder or Louise Bourgeois would have done with such a machine.

12. 3D-Printed Self-Portraits: Lorna Bradshaw's "Replicants"


Lorna Bradshaw channeled her obsession with sci-fi into a strangely dystopian project titled "Replicants," consisting of three 3D-printed self-portraits produced using varying digital processes. From pixelated blobs to quasi-mummified remains, the facial studies are a surreal take on portraiture that pushes an ancient form into the 21st century.

13. 3D-Printed Anatomical Self-Portraits: Joshua Harker's Sculptural Self-Portrait


We gave you deconstructed 3D self-portraits, now we'll raise you to 3D anatomical self-portraits based on CT scans of skulls. Such is the macabre work of Joshua Harker, who makes custom printed masks based on 3D facial scans.

14. 3D-Printed Artists?: Diemut Strebe's 3D Print of Vincent Van Gogh's Ear

van gogh ear

We doubt good ol' Vinnie could have foreseen the ways in which he would affect the trajectory of 3D printing. Just this year, Diemut Strebe debuted his 3D-printed replica of van Gogh's infamous left ear -- you know, the one he chopped off with a razor back in 1888. Who knows, one hundred or one thousand years from now, artists might be 3D printing other artists. Why produce a masterpiece, when you can recreate an old master?

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